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Luna Luna Amusement Park comes to LA

Los Angeles is buzzing with anticipation as Luna Luna Amusement Park prepares for its long-awaited return after a 35-year hiatus. This revival promises an extraordinary experience, boasting attractions that are nothing short of artistic marvels. Picture a Ferris wheel envisioned by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an enchanted forest brought to life by David Hockney, and a carousel crafted by Keith Haring. These dream-like creations were the brainchild of André Heller, an artist who convinced these contemporary icons to join his vision for an unconventional amusement park.

Stored away for over three decades in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse, these rides and attractions represent the collaboration of some of the 20th century's most influential artists. Heller, an artist originally from Vienna, conceptualized and launched this park in Hamburg, Germany, back in 1987. His inspiration stemmed from the Prater amusement park in Vienna, a nostalgic memory from his youth.

Luna Luna in 1987

Leveraging his rising fame in the 1980’s, Heller pursued funding for Luna Luna concept he had nurtured for a decade. His aim was to bridge the gap between the avant-garde artists, often seen as detached, and the general public. Securing a grant of $350,000 from German Magazine Neue Revue in 1985, Heller embarked on a journey to persuade artists to participate. The project gained momentum through connections—Sonia Delaunay contributed a design for the entrance arch before her passing, Andy Warhol linked Heller to Basquiat, who insisted on involving Miles Davis, initiating a chain of collaborations including Lichtenstein, Haring and Kenny Scharf.

Basquiat's Ferris wheel in 1987

Many of the works, like Basquiat’s Ferris wheel and Dali’s mirrored fun house were fabricated in Europe, using vintage carnival equipment. Over 200 artisans from the Viennese opera theater and community worked on the project. Haring and Scharf traveled to Austria to work in person.

Roy Lichtenstein's installation at the park in 1987

Luna Luna debuted in West Germany in June of 1987, captivating visitors and garnering widespread attention. Life magazine reported at the time, “There are 30 pavilions in this international carnival of the avant-garde, and each one simultaneously elevates the mind and makes the jaw drop”. It’s estimated that around 250,000 visitors visited the park. From there, Heller hoped the park would travel around the world.

Heller envisioned its global journey, but bureaucratic hurdles intervened, leading to its storage and Heller's financial struggles. Several attempts to revive the project faced legal and logistical challenges, resulting in Luna Luna spending years in storage, eventually finding a temporary home in a storage facility in rural Texas.

From Left: Justin Wills, Daniel McClean, Anthony Gonzales and Michael Goldberg, members of the team bringing Luna Luna back to life, stand on the Jean-Michel Basquiat Ferris wheel / Credit: Jake Michaels/New York Times

In 2019, creative director Michael Goldberg had read an article about the park which sparked his interest. Heller, coincidentally, had been collaborating with Basquiat scholar Dieter Buchhart and art restitution lawyer Daniel McClean about how to bring Luna Luna back to life. Goldberg approached Drake's DreamCrew with the concept. Immediately they wanted to know how they could get involved. Drake’s firm invested $100 million into the project and in January, Luna Luna left Texas for Los Angeles in 44 containers, two wagons and seven crates.

Image from the LA warehouse / Credit: Jake Michaels for the New York Times

Image from the LA warehouse / Credit: Jake Michaels for the New York Times

The two captivating visuals showcased above are glimpses from the warehouse in Boyle Heights, where an intricate process of cleaning and rejuvenation is underway for the works. Among the multitude of items being meticulously sorted and revitalized are vintage posters and artist-designed t-shirts, all undergoing delicate cleaning and hand-drying procedures.

While many of the attractions, like Basquiat’s Ferris wheel, remain operational, they will not be fit for guests. Curators say they weren’t up to modern code in 1987 and would not pass a 2023 inspection. Nevertheless, these works promise to be an awe-inpsiring experience for those who witness them in person.

Luna Luna, a visionary creation ahead of its time, seamlessly blended artistry and amusement into a landscape that beckoned both beauty and entertainment long before today's commercial immersive art experiences took center stage. This upcoming exhibit will likely ignite a fresh wave of artists, inspiring them to craft their own amusement park attractions.

Helen Molesworth, the curatorial advisor for Luna Luna and the DreamCrew are already in discussions with European ride manufacturers, envisioning a future where fully operational rides by artists may one day tour globally.

Beyond its entertainment value, this revitalization has drawn immense interest for its profound artistic and cultural significance. Titled “Luna Luna: Forgotten Fantasy”, the exhibit will run through spring of 2024. Although the park’s opening date has not yet been determined, we eagerly await this extraordinary rediscovery!

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